NYT, WaPo Shield Abbas from Inconvenient Truths
In the latest phase of his quixotic Middle East shuttle diplomacy, Secretary of State John Kerry again ran smack against the same dead-end obstacle against resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations -- the my-way-or-the-highway obduracy of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In his stopover in Ramallah, Kerry again was told by Abbas that the Palestinian Authority will come to the negotiating table only if Israel first clamps a total freeze on construction in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and frees Palestinian terrorist prisoners. This Abbas demand has been a non-starter for a long time and goes directly against the tone and substance of the Obama administration's Mideast diplomacy.
On this make-or-break issue, Israel and the U.S. are on the same page. During his March trip to Israel, President Obama lined up categorically with Israel's position -- prompt negotiations without any preconditions. Ditto Kerry in his shuttle diplomacy. Only Abbas stands in the way.
If you read the Jerusalem Post, the headline captures the essence of this impasse, "Abbas says Israel must act before returning to table."
But if you pick up the New York Times or the Washington Post, you'll find dispatches that leave readers totally in the dark about the real obstacle to reviving the peace process.
Always protective of Abbas, the Times, in a dispatch by Isabel Kershner and Michael Gordon, merely tells readers that Abbas "again raised issues" like Israel's continued settlement construction and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention. Not so. Abbas didn't just raise these issues, he brought them up as essential preconditions for resumption of talks. That's what's gumming up the diplomatic works.
No wonder Kerry was beginning to get frustrated and again reminded Abbas that the issue of Israeli settlements can and should be handled by negotiations on all outstanding issues, including borders for a Palestinian state. Once there's agreement on borders, Kerry argued, the settlement question disappears. Abbas, however, remains unwilling or unable to move toward serious negotiations whose success requires compromises on both sides.
But the Times, in its usual gentle treatment of Abbas, prefers to dance around this basic obstacle to peace talks ("Kerry Holds Talks in Bid to Revive Mideast Peace Process" May 24, page A6).
And what about the Washington Post? There, the pro-Abbas camouflaging is even worse than at the Times.
In her dispatch from Jerusalem, State Department reporter Anne Gearan completely obfuscates Abbas's absolute insistence on getting major Israeli concessions as the price for resumption of peace talks. Gearan fails to see and report the obvious -- that stripped of all make-believe, this spells the death knell of Kerry's diplomacy.
Instead, she writes: "Israeli officials say they are ready to begin talks without pre-conditions and accuse the Palestinians of dragging their feet. Palestinian officials say their side has already made concessions to prepare the ground for talks."
Oh, really? That's grasping for equivalence that doesn't stand up to reality. "Dragging their feet" doesn't begin to convey the import of Abbas's intransigence. And, pray tell, which "concessions" has the Palestinian side already made? Gearan's dispatch comes neatly wrapped in Foggy Bottom fog. ("Kerry pushes for Mideast peace talks -- He shuttles between Jerusalem, Ramallah in bid to assuage doubts" page A9, May 24)
Bottom line: Both the Times and the Post are more interested in propping up Abbas than giving readers the inconvenient truth that, with Hamas breathing down his neck, he's not up to resolving a conflict that awaits a Sadat or a Mandela at the helm of the Palestinian side for any real progress.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers